By: Steve Knowles, the cousin of Beyonce
Estimated read time: 6 minutes of glory
Despite popular belief, the University of Kansas still has a football team, and kicks off its season opener this Saturday against Southeast Missouri State (SEMO). The Jayhawks are coming off of a 2-10 campaign last year that was miraculously enough, a big step forward following the winless 2015 season. With a new season looming, there is an actual buzz of some hopefulness from people around the program that hasn’t been felt in nearly a decade. Why is that?
First, Kansas will actually have people who play football on their football team. I’ve heard this is key. When David Beaty took over the reins of the KU football program after the 2014 season, he had around 60 scholarship players on the roster out of a possible FBS limit of 85. In the 2015 season opener against FCS South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits had the FCS max of 63 scholarship players outnumbering Big 12 member, Kansas. South Dakota State went on to win that game in Lawrence, and ruined the Labor Day weekend for tens to hundreds of Jayhawk football fans across the globe. Coming into this year, Kansas has nearly 80 players on scholarship. This should only help the overall depth of this team, which has shown glimpses of promise from first team players over the years, only to get worn down throughout the duration of games due to lack of bodies to fill in when needed.
Second reason for buzz? Doug Meacham. The former TCU Co-Offensive Coordinator joined the KU staff this offseason, causing a little buzz nationally, as someone who left a more high profile program to take the same title at a bottom-feeder within the same conference. While Meacham was the main play caller in Fort Worth, he technically did share a title with fellow OC Sonny Cumbie, who took over full OC duties for TCU following Mecham’s departure. So Meacham should have more freedom to put his stamp on the KU offense, and luckily takeaway play calling duties from Beaty. It’s important to note that Beaty took the definition of “Tunnel Vision” to new levels, by setting the record for “Tunnel Screens” called in a season, accounting for 94% of all KU plays last year (The 94% number has not been verified, but it feels right and these days that’s more important than actual facts). Overall, Meacham took over a below average offense and Quarterback in TCU and Trevone Boykin heading into the 2014 season, and was able to turn TCU into a top-10 scoring offense and Boykin into the top 4 in Heisman voting. With players built for the Air-raid offense mostly in place for KU, he should be able to help the Jayhawks ratchet up their scoring dramatically this season.
The third and last main reason for a glimmer of hope this season, is stars on the defensive side of the ball. Surprisingly enough, this Kansas defense will produce some players who will actually be drafted into the NFL (sad to write it that way when you’re talking about a Power-5 team). The defensive line will be led by Big-12 preseason defensive player of the year, DE Dorance Armstrong, and second team All Big-12 Defensive Tackle, Daniel Wise. Both should cause havoc up front which should hopefully help out a young secondary led by Safety Mike Lee. The prized recruit from New Orleans showed promise as a Freshmen last year, including the interception in overtime against Texas that helped seal the KU victory over the Longhorns (as always, I’m legally obligated to mention that game in every KU football related article). While having Armstrong, Wise and Lee is nice, the Jayhawks will need players like Linebackers Joe Dineen Jr and Keith Loneker to take steps forward from productive years last year to fill any remaining gaps. The unit that will most likely be the Achilles heel for this team is the secondary. Despite Lee, the unit starts 2 other sophomores there and the learning curve will have to be quick, especially in the pass heavy Big-12.
Know Your Foe: The Redhawks from Cape Girardeau, MO play at the FCS level Ohio Valley Conference, and finished last season at 3-8. SEMO is returning about a third of their combined starters on both side of the ball, so expectations probably are not sky high for this squad, though the argument that they couldn’t be any worse could also be made. While KU has lost to 2 FCS opponents in the last decade, I don’t think SEMO will be one of them. Compared to the North Dakota State team that made it to the 2010 FCS Final 4 and the 2015 South Dakota State that went on to the FCS playoffs, I don’t think the Redhawks would be able to stay on the same field as those teams.
Famous SEMO Alum: Rush Limbaugh (Attended for 3 years. Shockingly, did not graduate). Woo boy, didn’t have a lot of animosity towards SEMO before I found out this nugget. Never a good sign when you have over 473,000+ results when you google “Rush Limbaugh Racist.”
Outlook and Prediction: While Beaty has refused to name the starting Quarterback to either the team or the public, despite knowing who it is, all signs are pointing to Washington State transfer Peyton Bender getting the nod. This is especially true with rumors of a (hopefully) non-serious hand injury suffered by Carter Stanley within the last few weeks of camp. I assume Stanley will be healthy to get some snaps later in the game, but we’ll see with Beaty, who has been treating the news of who will start at QB with more delicate subtlety than Trump with nuking North Korea via twitter (BACK TO SPORTZZZ). Overall, KU should have way too much speed at receiver for SEMO to keep up, between Steven Sims, Jeremiah Booker, Daylon Charlot, Chase Harrell and Ryan Schadler (He ran track at Wichita State. Also, did you know that James Naismith is the only KU basketball coach to have a losing record?) KU should be relatively stocked there, even with the dismissal of Quiv Gonzalez from the team. I’m interested to see what Khalil Herbert and Taylor Martin will do at running back, as both are relatively unknown entities there, and this will be a good opportunity to showcase against lesser competition. Lastly, I’m sure the defensive will have some miscues, but overall, I think the young talent should be able to hold their own on Saturday.
I’m going with a 48-16 KU win. Some sloppiness in the opening game, but generally a game that’s never in doubt.